Tobagonians suffering from land title issues say they are hopeful for some resolution as six pieces of revised legislation recently passed in Parliament and assented to by President Paula-Mae Weekes comes into force.
Landowners anticipate that the amended laws will help them resolve the 100-year-old land ownership issues that date back to the end of slavery.
For Tobagonian Susan Yorke-Roberts, the knowledge that her family can have a clear-cut path to ownership of their lands is a sign of a welcome relief.
“My mother, who is in her eighties, has been paying land taxes on a four-acre piece of land left to her by her great-grandmother. We began the administration process so that we could get the deed and share up the land.”
She said her mother is hoping to live to see a clean deed of title passed on to the people she willed the parcel of land.
“It has not been easy as we have already spent time, money and energy without much success. The administration process was long and tedious and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Still, we could not complete the registration of the land as many original documents could not be found at the Red House in Trinidad.”
Yorke-Roberts spoke about the several treks her family made to Trinidad only to be told that the documents could not be found.
“Most likely the original documents could have been destroyed during the 1903 fire, Hurricane Flora in 1962 or during the 1990 attempted coup. All or any of those could have contributed to the documents being burnt or water soaked and eventually unreadable or completely destroyed,” she said.
Yorke-Roberts’ story is a common tale reflecting the situation affecting more than 70 per cent and 40 per cent of rural and urban land titles, respectively.
It’s a tale the government hopes to bring to an end as its recently amended pieces of legislation which will clearly identify the routes of land titles, Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis said at a post-Cabinet media briefing at the Magdalena Grand Resort in Tobago on November 16.
The minister listed the laws: “They are the Valuation of Land Amendment Act, 2018; the Property Tax Amendment Act, 2018; The Registration of Titles to Land Amendment Act, 2018; the State Suites Limitation Act, 2018; the Land Tribunal Amendment Act, 2018 and the Land Adjudication Amendment Act 2018.”
Warning to landowners
One magistrate recently warned potential landowners to be wary from now and not wait on legislation to address all their land-related issues.
Michael Broomes, a former magistrate and attorney of law, told an audience a town meeting organised by the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department of the Seventh Day Adventist Church at Canaan, that they must understand issues related to land generally.
He said they should be aware that people who have been paying Land and Building Taxes on a piece of property over the years, may now use those payments as leverage to show ownership of the property.
He was asked how would-be landowners can prevent strips of land from becoming fully paved access for vehicles by neighbours, who had previously used the land as a footpath.
“One day in every year, restrict the use of the access road to prevent the users from going to court and saying they have been passing on the land for years and are now entitled to widen the area as a roadway large enough to accommodate their vehicles,” the former magistrate said.